I am 42 years old. When I was 21 years old I was in the Air
Force as a Security Policeman. I was deployed to an extremely impoverished 3rd
world country. I was there for 95 days and 16 hours. During my time there I
witnessed poverty I did not know was possible.
There was no infrastructure, no police, no firemen, no EMS. In most homes and
what businesses existed, there was no running water. People defecated and
urinated out in the open in the streets. There was no trash service, so people just
piled there trash anywhere they could. The area we were in was infested by rats
and wild dogs. Violence and death were every day occurrences.
It is painful for me to describe the incidents that caused me to have PTSD, so I will
be general and brief. I was part of multiple physical altercations. I witnessed acts of
violence perpetrated on children from toddlers to teenagers. I bent the rules
whenever the opportunity to exact justice through violence presented itself. I
became another person whom I did not know or would have ever wanted to know.
When I came home we were placed in a room together with our First Sergeant, a
Chaplain, and a doctor who explained if any of us were having trouble sleeping or
needed to talk to someone to speak up. He prefaced this with the statement we
could lose our badges, guns, and security clearances if we felt too overwhelmed by
anything we had dealt with. No one of course said anything as we were all fine. I
was far from fine.
I could not sleep. I could not explain to my wife or anyone else what I had done,
seen, or kept someone else from doing. Only people who were there would
understand. We were all mostly separated by shifts etc, so it was not easy to hang
out as a group. I began to drink as much as possible as often as possible. Alcohol
seemed to be the only thing that would allow me to forget or take away any
inhibitions I had about telling people they had no idea how easy their life was or just
pick a fight for no particular reason. I drank to pass out as it was the only way I
found I could get a decent night’s sleep.
This behavior went on for about a decade or so. I almost destroyed my marriage,
but thankfully my wife stayed by my side no matter how ugly I got. Back then you
really didn’t hear much about PTSD. You certainly didn’t talk about it with anyone. I
knew something was wrong within a couple weeks of being home. I started seeing
someone around my house that I knew for a fact was dead. I could hear screams
where there weren’t any, and I had extremely vivid flashbacks. I almost left out that
I began to cut myself and put a gun in my mouth from time to time.
The booze wasn’t working anymore and was making all aspects of my life miserable.
I sought answers from a church pastor and got some sense of being forgiven for all I
had done and the nightmares, flashbacks, etc got fewer and further in between.
Different movies or news stories would be uncomfortable for me, but I thought I was
dealing with whatever my problem was pretty well.
I had a close family member die in Afghanistan. Something within me broke. Every
day it became harder and harder to get out of bed. The flashbacks, ghostly visitor,
and new symptoms of PTSD showed up with the force of a freight train. I always
thought panic attacks were fake and to be honest people with PTSD were just weak.
Then I had my first panic attack and I knew I was horribly mistaken. I began to eat
junk food any and all of the time. Even though at the same time I was trying every
extreme work out like Crossfit and becoming addicted to it until I physically broke
from constant work outs, drinking, binge eating, and not sleeping.
I began to panic at work in my civilian job and on training weekends with the
National Guard. I would have fits of rage with my small children and some days off
never got off the couch until I had to go to the bathroom or get more beer. I was
heavily involved in my church and very tight with the pastor and my small Bible
study group. Suddenly I couldn’t stand to be around them. I felt worthless and
weak. I was beyond God’s redemption or help. I stopped speaking to everyone by
phone and would only text or email.
I began pulling away from all friends and family. I asked a friend at work that I
knew was seeing a therapist and I began seeing a psychiatrist and a psychologist
probably three years ago or so. At first I refused to be medicated, but after reserving
a hotel room to kill myself in, I decided I would do anything to stop feeling this way.
The drugs have certainly helped. I was diagnosed with Complex PTSD, Severe
Depression, and Severe Anxiety. It turns out that holding onto to twenty years of
trauma, guilt, anger, and sadness actually physically changes your brain. As we
process the events of my life I have good days and bad days. The bad days are much
fewer and a lot less bad. I have memory problems now and the occasional flashback.
I mostly panic about having a panic attack, but I’ve been taught how to cope with all
of these things.
I absolutely never understood what PTSD is. I’m not sure how the general public
perceives it. I do know civilians seem to fear it, like a veteran may be “crazy” or is
apt to “flip out.” Veterans that don’t have it still generalize it and find it suspicious at
best and fake weakness at worst. I hold a very successful corporate job, and people
close to me there are aware I can be a bit moody, but they have no idea I have PTSD.
That doesn’t mean it’s easy. It’s like walking around with a deadly disease that no
one else can see. You don’t want to think of yourself as disabled unless you have a
limb missing, but I know now that I am somewhat disabled. There are certain
situations that are dangerous to me, and I will never be the young man I was before
my deployment ever again. I’m not even sure who that was. I do know that I am
stronger than I ever knew.
Things that help me cope are being at my kids sporting events, traveling, being in
nature, and being a beer snob. I don’t like to feel like I can be conquered by alcohol.
So I learned to drink not to get drunk, but to sample well-crafted beers of the world
and quit before I hit the line. I love being around my dogs. They always know when
I’m having a “moment” and they always make me feel better. I listen to a lot of
music and read a lot of books.
If I were to give advice to someone who think they suffer from PTSD, it would be to
go talk to a professional about it right now. I was scared to death to tell my closest
friends that I’ve been hanging out with since Junior High. After a year or two of
therapy I got them all together and told them everything I had been going through
and why I had distanced myself from them and had a hard time being in different
social situations. That made me feel so much better and took so much pressure off.
I then told my extended family through a letter. All of the people in your life who
truly love you, will understand. They will help you if you let them. I would also urge
them to check out Jesus and His message of hope. If that’s a stretch find something
spiritual in your life.